New cell tower ordinance to allow temporary service facilities

Published 8:00 am Saturday, July 28, 2018

Polk commissioners approve wireless telecommunication ordinance amendments

COLUMBUS — The Polk County Board of Commissioners recently approved amendments to its wireless telecommunications ordinance that included allowing carrier or cell on wheels.

A COW is a portable self-contained wireless facility that can be moved to a location and set up to provide services on a temporary or emergency basis, according to the definition in the ordinance. A COW is normally vehicle mounted, and contains a telescoping boom as the antenna support structure, the county’s new ordinance says.

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Polk County Manager Marche Pittman said this week that the ordinance allowing for COWs is not specifically for the upcoming World Equestrian Games.

“We realized during the mudslides there was a gap in our ordinance,” said Pittman.

Pittman said the ordinance amendments also include getting the ordinance up to new state standards, as there have been changes in law.

“We realized that COWs have to be addressed,” Pittman said. “We certainly want to make sure the citizens of the county have cell service during [WEG]. I understand it’s an inconvenience for those folks to have to look at them, but it’s also an inconvenience for people to not have cell service.”

Pittman also said the Tryon International Equestrian Center, where the WEG is being held mid-September, has been really consistent addressing the issue with cell companies to make sure the amount of people in the county does not impact people around the facility or throughout the county.

Commissioners met last week and approved the amendments following a public hearing.

Polk County Planner Cathy Ruth said some of the changes were done from a legal perspective, including that the ordinance needed to be changed to quasi-judicial.

County Attorney Jana Berg said a COW is a mobile cell provider in the event of an emergency, and is not intended to be permanent. They are used during high-use periods, when cell coverage is overloaded or in the event of a disaster.

Resident Grey Lancaster said during the public hearing that he does not think a cell tower should be put up during the world games just anywhere.

“I don’t want to wake up and find one in my front yard,” Lancaster said.

Berg said the purpose of a COW is when there is no service and the event could be a natural disaster.

Pittman said there is a benefit to having COWs during the WEG because of the thousands of people who will be in the area.

Lancaster asked where cell providers can put COWs and asked if they pay landowners to put them on private property.

Ruth said COWs will still have requirements, such as fall zones. The county sees the plans and providers go through the process, she said.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he thinks the county could use a few COWs in Green Creek because residents there are having issues now.

Commissioner Chair Jake Johnson suggested the addition of requiring that aesthetics be taken into consideration regarding allowing COWs, saying they should be placed in the least disruptive locations.

Berg said the county could look at that wording in the future, as that wording would have to go before the planning board and the county have another public hearing prior to approval.